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Foundation skills:

Overview

Strong foundational skills, namely literacy and numeracy skills, but also digital and financial literacy, are extremely important for most jobs in the knowledge economy. Foundation skills underpin the productivity of Australia’s workforce and are instrumental in ensuring workers have the ability to upskill.

Training for foundation skills is undertaken through the Foundation Skills Training Package which is developed by the Education Industry Reference Committee.

Recent feedback from industry and providers indicate that the Foundation Skills Training Package is currently failing to provide foundation skills to learners, and a review of the training package is required in an attempt to address this.

COVID-19 impact

In their submission to the Australian Government titled Critical Role of Blue Tech and Digital Skills in Australia's Economic Recovery, TAFE Directors Australia, CISCO Systems and Optus highlight the rapid shift to digital technologies which was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and stated that for all Australians to be able to participate and contribute to economic and social development, they will require some degree of digital literacy.

The submission report from TAFE Queensland to the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training revealed the period of remote working introduced across business sectors during the COVID-19 lockdown exposed the extreme shortage of digital skills and knowledge amongst a broad spectrum of the population. Digital technologies are increasingly embedded in all aspects of working practices, and the widespread automation of routine tasks in many workplaces is also leading to the disappearance of roles traditionally available to those with lower levels of literacy and numeracy. The submission states that to provide ongoing, realistic employment prospects to all Australians, it is vital that a revised approach to adult literacy aims to improve literacy and numeracy levels across the board.

Foundation skills are one of the Australian Government’s priorities for skills development:

As part of the government’s COVID-19 response, the Foundation Skills for Your Future Program has been enhanced to allow the development and delivery of online resources and the SEE program will be funded for an estimated additional 14,485 places. The Australian and State and Territory Governments have all included additional assistance for business owners, their employees and those who need to upskill or reskill to access training in digital skills in their COVID-19 recovery plans and/or budgets.

Industry skills needs

The Skills and Training 2021-22 Budget Presentation included a Government pledge of $23.6 million to expand access to basic language, reading, writing, maths and computer skills training for Australians with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy. This included $1 million for research activities to support foundation skills policy.

Across all occupations and industries, baseline digital skills are foundational to workers in across many roles. The Digital Economy Strategy 2030 reveals the Government is expanding and uncapping the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program. This will provide an additional $4 million to support projects that better incorporate digital skills training for job seekers as part of the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing stronger support for foundation skills under the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform.

The submission report Public Enquiry: Adult Literacy and its Importance acknowledges that the skills and knowledge adults now need to succeed in work and life have dramatically changed, and is often driven by technological advances. A significant number of people aged from 15 to 74 years old in Australia do not have access to sufficient foundation skills in reading and numeracy to be able to cope equally with life and work, with low levels of language, literacy and numeracy skills having a negative impact on an individual's social and economic future. The report states improving foundation skills in both parents and children can reverse intergenerational patterns of low achievement, with evidence showing that investing in improving the language, literacy and numeracy skills of the population also has economic benefits for the nation - including by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and productivity.

Following a referral from the Australian Government Minister for Education and Youth, the House Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training will inquire into and report on adult literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills in Australia.

The presentation Financial Literacy in Australia: Insights from HILDA Data notes that although Australia has a relatively high level of financial literacy when ranked globally, there is widespread financial illiteracy within Australia, particularly amongst young people. There are also large and significant gender gaps, with women less financially literate than men on average. Widespread financial illiteracy is of increasing concern within the context of highly complex financial markets, high levels of personal and household debt and easy access to numerous credit opportunities.

In many industries, baseline foundation skills may be treated as assumed knowledge. Some specific examples of foundational skills that some industries have identified as important include:

  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy, identified by the following industries and sectors:
    • Arts, Culture, Entertainment and Design
    • Building and Construction
    • Business Services
    • Corrections and Public Safety
    • Retail and Wholesale.
  • Digital Literacy, identified by the following industries and sectors:
    • Corrections and Public Safety
    • ESI Generation
    • Financial Services
    • Government
    • Manufacturing
    • Nursing
    • Retail and Wholesale
    • Transport.

 

  • Financial literacy, identified by the following industries and sectors:
    • Financial Services
    • Government
    • Retail and Wholesale.

Internet job postings

Internet job vacancy postings that contained requests for foundation skills were examined for occupational trends. This includes writing, communication, typing and basic digital skills. The chart below compares the percentage of internet job postings in each occupation (ANZSCO Major Group) that requested foundation skills.

Internet job postings that requested foundation skills, by occupation (2018-21) 

Source: Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight™ Real-time Labor Market Information tool

 

Foundation skills were most often explicitly requested for clerical and administrative positions, and least often for labourers and machinery operation and drivers positions. Overall these skills are often requested, with postings across all occupational types requesting foundation skills more than 20% of the time. Often these skills will be implicit in a job (such as expecting good digital literacy skills for IT workers), which may explain why these rates are not higher.

Employers are requesting a range of basic communication and administrative skills when recruiting for entry-level postions. It is difficult to understand the full extent to which these skills are required as for many occupations these skills are implicitly required and won’t be specifically asked for. For example, employers will not ask for basic communication or literacy skills when recruiting for managerial or highly technical positions.

 

 

Case studies

Transport

The Transport industry in Australia comprises of the following four main sectors:

  • Aviation
  • Maritime
  • Rail
  • Transport and Logistics.

The need for strong foundational skills within the transport sector is highlighted by the following quotes:

The growing need for digital literacy that goes beyond basic computer skills is fast becoming the new standard. Incorporating these skills is vital to being able to adapt, adopt, analyse and interact with several platforms that are not limited to the internet of things, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Additional skills required within the industry will include communication skills; virtual collaboration and social intelligence; managerial/leadership skills; design mindsets, critical thinking/problem solving and system thinking skills; learning agility/information literacy skills; intellectual autonomy and self-management skills; Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) skills; technology and data analysis skills. (Logistics and Defence Skills Council’s Rail Industry Profile (Rail – Passenger))

           

As companies move into more technology-based operations, assistance with training will be required for current staff and an older workforce to transition into new work modalities particularly for small to medium sized operators. Those groups with low technical expertise/literacy, and low Language, Literacy, Numeracy (LLN) skills may be at further risk of experiencing delays in training.

Some organisations are implementing policies and procedures to tackle issues surrounding disclosed and non-disclosed Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) challenges in the workforce. The policies and procedures identify barriers which may impact workers ability to undertake their roles, and the appropriate steps which need to be taken to ensure workers have an appropriate level of understanding before completing tasks.

The following skills continue to be in increasing demand within the transport and logistics industry and span across driving and non-driving roles: communication; problem solving; compliance; technology; Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN). (Logistics and Defence Skills Council’s Road Transport Industry Profile (Freight))

Updated: 31 Mar 2022
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